Sep. 2014, The Moelwyns from Tanygrisiau

Those who have read my account of the backpacking walk I did in May 2014 will know that I had a nasty slip that resulted in an injured ankle. After hobbling around throughout the summer months, the pain started to ease and the swelling reduced, so in mid August I donned my boots for the first time in three months and tentatively walked an easy five miles route near my home. Suffering no ill effects, for my boot supported my ankle well, I next did a tougher five miles with a few hills in it, which left no doubt in my mind that I could go backpacking again in September.

The food and few other bits I would need were bought quickly and easily, while I yet again selected a route from the V-G Backpacking website. I hope the owner isn’t cross at me forever copying his routes, but it does take all the hard work out of it. The route fell in the corners of two Outdoor Leisure sheets, so rather than carry the maps with me I made half a dozen screen captures of sections of the route, which I then printed in colour at 125% size on A4 paper and wrote on the grid line numbers,. My wife’s suggestions that I burn each sheet when I had done with it, to save weight, or to use them as toilet paper, were ignored.

21 miles in three days should be easy for me to accomplish, though I was allowing an additional day just in case, while the ideal time to go would be to make it a follow-on to a weekend meeting of the fern society in North Yorkshire in mid-September. In my mind’s eye, I imagined I would drive north for the meeting and stop off in North Wales on my return. It was only when I looked at a map that I realised that Whitby, Snowdonia and north-west London are in fact on three points of a triangle. Never mind, it was do-able (but by the time I returned home I had driven over 1,000 miles in total.)

Day 1

There is a shortage of camp sites around the Blaenau Ffestiniog area, but Riverside Camping at Maentwrog was quite adequate for my needs. Encouraged by the warm weather, I was up an hour earlier than usual on the morning I was due to start my walk. The mountain that is upriver from the site was half hidden by white mist, but this cleared while I was getting ready. At Tanygrisiau, from where my walk was to start, I found that the car park near the narrow-gauge railway station was isolated and empty, so I was not at all happy about leaving my car there for a few days. Driving into the village I found a small parking area at the entrance to a recreation ground, opposite a row of houses; residents plainly left their cars here, so I tucked mine into a corner. The sun shone from an almost cloudless sky as I tap-tapped with my poles along the pavements to the station and then up a narrow tarmacked road.

The road led to the start of a broad stony track that climbed up to the valley of Cwmorthin, this made me puff and blow a little bit with my heavy rucksack, while the sun beat down. Unusually for North Wales, everything was as dry as dust; the stream along one side of the track was little more than a trickle with barely any waterfalls, while on the other side clumps of parsley fern, Cryptogamma crispa, were turning brown on the towering slopes of slate waste. With such fine weather, there were a number of other walkers in the area, but I saw the last of these (the last of any at all till near the end of my route, in fact) when I turned right at the start of Llyn Cymorthin, above which my branch of the track rapidly climbed.

Prior to the terminus of this track, it was necessary to turn right and climb the pathless green side of the adjacent mountain. I don’t think I followed exactly in the footsteps of the originator of the route by choosing what I hoped was the least strenuous option, which was to aim for what appeared to be a col directly above me. As I toiled upwards, with frequent stops needless to say, I kept looking down to the track that ran the length of the cwm below me, while thinking how much easier it would have been to have gone that way, for I would have reached a similar height ultimately but by a gentler gradient. But I was managing this climb OK, wasn’t I, and my ankle was holding out, so what was I whingeing about?

It was a relief when I reached a flatter area, which was indeed a very wide col between two tops, but after a little respite I still had a bit more climbing to do. However, there was now the advantage of a little trod path to follow, rather than picking a way through rough grass. Now that I was high up I checked my phone, recalling the time of my ankle injury in May when I did not get a signal. This time I had one, presumably due to my proximity to the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Bypassing the 2,290 ft top of Allt-Fawr, the path led in a fairly straight line to the edge of Llyn Conglong. The distinctive shape of Cnicht dominated the view to the south-west, while to the north-west the huge bulk of Snowdon could be seen.

The route next deviated to follow the pathless north shore of Llyn Conglong, beyond which I should have walked around two smaller lakes to its west, but that area was totally pathless and I could not locate them, they were probably out of sight below the convex slopes. Cnicht looked even more magnificent from this close, but the Mawddach estuary and Tremadoc Bay were hidden in shimmering golden haze. After walking a token circuit around the hilltop I returned past the southern slopes of Moel Druman to pick up a faint path passing this time to the north of Llyn Conglong and then an attractive unnamed lake beside which I had spent a night in 2001.

From here a narrow little path contours across the northern slopes of Allt-Fawr before reaching a ridge high above Llyn Iwerddon. That was another spot where I had camped previously, just three years ago. I discounted any thoughts of doing the same again now, not only because it was it a bit early to be stopping, but also because there would be a stiff climb back up to this ridge in the morning. My sights were set on reaching Llyn Dyrnogydd which was about ¾ of a mile further.

The continuation of the grassy ridge was a splendid walk, though this late in the afternoon I was getting a little too tired to fully appreciate it, while the light was now poor, too. A pathless trek zigzagging down a grass and rushes slope brought me to the shore of Llyn Dyrnogydd, at the north-west corner of which I could see a broken stone wall. On the other side of this I found a dry and level bit of ground for my tent; as sites go it was pretty good, with some shelter, rocks to sit on and a water supply close by.

Day 2

After a mild night, mist hid most of the lake and all of its surrounding hills in the morning, but this soon cleared. My route should have crossed the top of Moel Dyrnogydd next, but I wasn’t going to do that. I don’t mind going up if I’m going to stay up but I don’t do up and then down again. During a day walk, maybe, but not on a long walk like this, with a heavy backpack. Instead, I followed the north shore of the lake eastwards, this was pathless but easy. Beyond the lake, slopes led down to an expansive bowl-like valley containing a prominent track that I followed southwards to reach the A470 at Crimea Pass.

Almost opposite where the track joins the road there is a small parking area from where the originator of my route made a direct ascent of 1,893 ft Moel Farlwyd. My plan, however, was to walk a short distance down the main road to a new side road that I had seen being constructed in 2011. Ignoring the ‘Private’ sign on its 5-bar gate, I found the road was now completed and tarmacked, and it wound its way up to around 1,550 ft on Cribau. It was a bit of a slog to walk up, but better than rough hillside. On reaching the summit I discovered I was at the top of Zip World Titan where people pay £50 to travel at speeds of up to 70 mph on what is advertised as the largest zip zone in Europe. A number of graded bike tracks also started from here. The purpose of the private road, I learned later, was for customers to be transported to the top. At the moment it was deserted. Giving a big wave to anyone who might have been watching me on the cctv cameras, I continued on my way, north-eastwards now in the direction of Llynnau Barlwyd reservoirs.

It surprised me to discover that the lower one of the two lakes contained water, for it was empty three years ago, when I was able to walk across one end of it. Why this was I have no idea, for there was no sign of any sort of repair or construction work having taken place. From here I followed the eastward line of a footpath on the map that is only vague bits of sheep’s ways on the ground, contouring the lower slopes of Moel Penamnen. It isn’t the most pleasant of ways to walk, but I had done it before and knew that there comes a point where you can make a short climb onto the ridge on which a trod way continues to 1,922 ft Foel-fras.

After Foel-fras it was necessary to descend, to follow the perimeter of the forest that fills Cwm Penamnen. This is usually a very wet and boggy area, but currently the ground was dry and firm. Along the way I stopped for a long break beside a little pool whose margins were patrolled by dragonflies, their wings glittering in the sun. Where the forest boundary curved away to the north, I was supposed to continue south-eastwards, but here I cut the route short. It was not the author’s repeated comments on wetness that deterred me, for that would not be a problem today, but it was the use of words like “rough pathless heather” and “hard going” while I also feared that route-finding might not be simple.

Consequently, I headed south in the direction of the disused Cwt-y-bugail quarry. Yet again a path that is marked on the map does not exist on the ground, and although I had walked this way with no difficulty in 1988 and 2001, this time I wandered much too far to the east on this featureless plateau so that at one point I was looking down onto the hamlet of Cwn Penmachno.

Having located the quarry and awkwardly entered the area from one side, I poked around the ruined buildings and holes in the land as I had done in the past and I am sure every other person who passes this way does. A good track led south from here, looking down onto more disused tips, though permanent pools filled some sections where the track went through rock cuttings. A right-fork brought me to a small working quarry near the top of a hill; it was a bit strange to see the workers’ cars lined up there, in the middle of nowhere, though what was marked on the map as an access track was in fact a metalled road.

On my left was a small forest where my map showed a footpath climbing uphill into it and reaching its far side, where it was then necessary to turn sharp right and return to the near side. I saw little point in doing that when I could take a short cut across ungrazed land to where the path exited the forest, and this proved to be relatively straightforward. Past the forest, though, it was a totally different matter. There was a rickety old stile in a wire fence, beyond which there was no sign whatsoever of the footpath shown on the map, there was just untrod rough tussocky grass and heather. My objective was the isolated Llyn Bryn-du and I tried to walk directly that way on a compass bearing, but it was impossible as I had to make so many deviations to find the easiest way through the vegetation.

In spite of the bright skies and dry, mild weather this section was probably the least enjoyable of the entire walk. I eventually located the lake, as much by luck as skill, it could easily have been missed as it was out of sight beyond a wide, overgrown gulley that climbed to one side of me. The author of my route had noted the tussocky and boggy terrain around the lake, and after taking a cursory look I didn’t find it particularly inviting. From here the way was now southwards, towards the nearest of the twin lakes Llynnau Gamallt, and the going didn’t get much easier. The map showed the non-existent path crossing a wire fence and following its right side; apart from it being impossible to cross the barbed wire, either side of the fence was equally overgrown.

It was a relief when the lake came into view, for this was where I intended to spend the night. A perfectly level grass spot was found for my tent, near a stone wall and near the lake, just like the previous night, but here a breeze was coming directly across the choppy water and for the first time on this trip it felt a bit chilly.

Day 3

Rather disconcertingly, one of the first things I saw when I stirred in the morning was a bloated tick on my upper arm, midway between shoulder and bicep, but it was easily removed. How I picked that up I do not know, for past experiences have made me more careful. Then while I was getting ready, I discovered that the previous morning I must have dropped my tiny tube of airline toothpaste, the sort they give you on long haul flights, though cleaning my teeth with just a wet brush wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be.

The route away from here led westwards, once again by a marked but non-existent path. This was not too bad at first as it followed a wall, there are always sheep’s paths by boundaries, but beyond where the wall turned away above a shallow valley there was an irksome lengthy trek up an overgrown rise before descending more steeply on its far side to a metalled road, the one that leads to the working quarry I saw the previous day.

The road descends the scenic Cwm Teigl, with the little Afon Teigl running alongside it, and it was a pleasure to get into a steady stride on the hard surface. All good things come to an end, though, as at the far end of the slopes of Manod Mawr that formed one side of the valley, I needed to take a footpath branching off to the right. Finger-post and stiles there might be, but no hint of a path, so dense rushes and grasses had to be struggled through! On reaching a grazed area where there was a farm and a couple of isolated cottages, I had difficulty in working out the way to go, but I soon picked up the correct track. This climbed around the base of the mountain to arrive at Llyn y Manod that fills the gap between Manod Mawr and Manod Bach.

At the end of my lunch break by the lake, I looked up to see an athletic-looking young woman approaching me. The first walker I had seen since the start of my trip, she was from the Netherlands and enjoying a holiday in the mountains (a novelty for someone from a flat country) with her partner, who had gone out biking today. We parted company when she set off to climb Manod Bach, while I walked alongside the lake, but after I had passed through some ruined quarry workings beyond the lake and started down a lengthy disused incline that descends all the way to Blaenau Ffestiniog, we joined up again, she having changed her mind about going over the mountain. Thus we chatted amiably all the way to Blaenau’s High Street, where once again we went our separate ways.

It seemed to be an interminably long walk along the pavements through the town, and even longer after its far end where I crossed over to the minor road that leads through the adjoining Tanygrisiau, but at long last I reached my car. I spent another night (during which there was a thunderstorm with heavy rain) at Riverside Camping at Maentwrog, before heading for Conwy for a couple of days of relaxation prior to returning home, but already I was looking forward to returning to the Welsh mountains for something similar in May 2015.

Footnote:

The pun is coincidental! I had the first physiotherapy session for my ankle in mid-October, this was 5 months after I injured it, 3 months from when I was referred for treatment and 5 weeks after the above backpacking trip. Although that foot is still a bit larger than the other, has a slight lump up the back of the ankle and mild pain when I walk down the stairs first thing in the morning, it is unsurprising that after the length of time there doesn’t seem to be a great deal they can do for it now. I am merely happy that it does not affect my walking at all, though I am slightly apprehensive that it might not take much to damage it again.

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